Vapers Online Survey to Measure Attitudes and Behaviours Regarding Vaping Over Time (2019 to 2021)

Executive Summary

Prepared for Health Canada

Supplier Name: Environics Research
Contract Number: HT372-204361/001/CY
Contract Value: $147,564.71 (including HST)
Award Date: 2021-02-03
Delivery Date: 2021-06-24

PSPC Registration Number: POR 113-20; HCPOR Number: 20-24

For more information on this report, please contact Health Canada at:

Vapers Online Survey to Measure Attitudes and Behaviours Regarding Vaping Over Time (2019 to 2021)

Executive Summary

Prepared for Health Canada by Environics Research

May 2021

This public opinion research report presents the results of quantitative and qualitative research conducted by Environics Research on behalf of Health Canada. The quantitative research involved a return-to-sample online survey conducted between March 8 and March 25, 2021, among a group of Canadians who identified as Regular Vapers in the original 2019 waves of the Health Canada Vapers Online Survey. The qualitative research, conducted between April 28 and 30, 2021, involved 46 individuals recruited from the quantitative exercise, who participated in a two-day online, moderated bulletin board exercise.

Permission to reproduce

This publication may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes only. Prior written permission must be obtained from Health Canada. For more information on this report, please contact Health Canada at:

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Health, 2021.

Cat. No. H14-351/2021E-PDF

ISBN 978-0-660-40398-4

Related publications (registration number: POR 113-20):

Catalogue number H14-351/2021F-PDF (Final report, French)

ISBN 978-0-660-40399-1

Aussi offert en français sous le titre : Sondage en ligne de vapoteurs visant à mesurer les attitudes et les comportements à l’égard des produits de vapotage-au fil du temps (2019 à 2021).

Table of Contents

Executive summary

Background and objectives

The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) came into force in May of 2018 and created a new legal framework for regulating vaping products to protect young persons from nicotine addiction and inducements to tobacco use, while allowing adults to legally access vaping products as a less harmful alternative to tobacco.

This 2021 Health Canada Vapers Online study represents the third wave of research conducted to examine the transition between smoking and vaping products occurring at the individual level. It represents a longitudinal study of the changes in vaping and smoking behaviour over time among a group of Canadians who identified as Regular Vapers in the original 2019 research, and then subsequently participated again in 2020.

The main objective of this research was to understand patterns of use over time at the individual level with respect to vaping products. The research also gathered attitudes and behaviours of Canadians who are still Regular Vapers with respect to vaping products. Specific research objectives include, but are not limited to, the following:


Quantitative. To address the research objectives, a quantitative Return to Sample (RTS) online survey was conducted with Canadians who originally participated in either the February or the June 2019 waves of the Health Canada Vapers Panel online survey. The original qualification criteria for the 2019 surveys were Regular Vapers aged 15 and older.

A total of 2,000 invitations were sent and 337 respondents completed the 2021 survey (a participation rate of 17%). The survey was conducted between March 8th and 25th, 2021, using the same panel sample sources as the 2019 and 2020 studies. This means that this survey was fielded while most parts of Canada were under public health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the total 337 responding in 2021, 295 completed all three waves of research (2019, 2020 and 2021) and 42 completed only the 2019 and 2021 waves (i.e., not the 2020 wave). No quotas were used to allow every potential participant to respond. Weighting was used to match the final sample to the 2017 Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS) in terms of region, gender and age to maintain demographic consistency.

Each respondent was classified as a regular vaper if they have vaped at least once a week for the past four weeks and as a current smoker if they have smoked daily or occasionally in the past month. Respondents who were both Regular Vapers and Current Smokers were classified as Dual Users.

The original sample (and, therefore, also the 2021 sample) was drawn from panels of individuals who have agreed to participate in online surveys. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the panel, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated, and the results cannot be described as statistically projectable to the target population.

Please note: this sample cannot be considered representative of Regular Vapers as a whole, since it excludes individuals who became Regular Vapers between 2019 and 2021 (i.e., no “new” vapers were invited to the survey).

Qualitative. The second phase of the project involved a qualitative online community exercise with a subsample of respondents from the 2021 online survey. The online community used the Recollective online bulletin board platform to guide participants through a two-day, moderated series of activities based on their past and current vaping and smoking behaviour, with a particular focus on transitions (i.e., quitting and relapsing). Separate English and French communities were run concurrently.

A total of 46 participants (31 English and 15 French) completed the qualitative exercise between April 28 and April 30, 2021. Participants were recruited to reflect a mix of age groups, genders and smoking and vaping experiences. They were informed of the purpose of the exercise, the time commitment and incentive, and provided with guidance on how to protect their privacy. Each participant who completed the qualitative exercise was given an honorarium of $150 as a thank you for their time.

This research was qualitative in nature, not quantitative. As such, the results provide an indication of participants’ views about the issues explored, but they cannot be generalized to the full population of members of the general public or members of the targeted audience segments.

Contract value

The contract value was $147,564.71 (HST included).

Key findings

This research examines shifts in vaping and smoking behaviour among 337 Canadians who were originally identified as Regular Vapers in 2019, over a three-year period (2019, 2020 and 2021).

More than one in three (36%) experienced a transition of some kind between 2020 and 2021, either quitting vaping and/or smoking, relapsing vaping and/or smoking, or newly taking up smoking (no new vapers were invited to the survey). The remaining six in ten (64%) of participants fall into a “no transition” (status quo) category, meaning they continued to vape, smoke, both or neither in 2021 as they did in 2020. The large size of this status quo category, the decline in the proportion reporting any change in behaviour between 2020-21 (36%) compared to the previous year (54% between 2019-20), and high proportions interested in cessation points to the general tenacity of these behaviours, the difficulty of quitting for some, and a lack of interest in quitting for others.

There is also a degree of churn evident in quitting and relapsing behaviours. For example, while 15% of participants quit vaping since 2020, another 12% relapsed, resulting in a net decrease in vapers of only three percentage points. There was a net increase of smokers by two percentage points, with 6% of respondents quitting smoking, but another 6% relapsing and 2% taking up smoking for the first time. This churn, with different users effectively replacing each other over time, also points to the challenge inherent in reducing the overall proportion of people smoking and vaping over time.

Ultimately, respondents were categorized in broader categories for closer analysis of the following groups of interest:

  1. Dual Users (38% (n=135*) of respondents): A particular emphasis of this research is on “Dual Users” who both vape and smoke. In 2020, 38% of respondents were Dual Users, and this proportion remains consistent in 2021 (38%). However, this overall stability masks change between 2020 and 2021: during that time, 12% of the total sample moved out of the dual user category (either due to quitting smoking, quitting vaping or both), and another 12% became (new or relapsed) Dual Users in 2021.
  2. Quit Smoking (6% (n=26*) of respondents): This group consists of all respondents who were smokers in the previous study wave in 2020 (or 2019, for those who did not complete the survey in 2020) but are no longer regular smokers. The subsample size of this target group (n=26) is too small to analyze quantitatively.
  3. Relapsed Smokers (6% (n=25*) of respondents) and New Smokers (2% (n=6) of respondents): Relapsed Smokers are former smokers from 2019 who were not smoking in 2020, but since started smoking again. New smokers are those who never smoked in 2019 and 2020, but who now do. Due to small sample sizes (n=25 Relapsed Smokers and n=6 New Smokers), the two groups are combined to allow for analysis.
  4. Quit Vaping (15% (n=56*) of respondents): These respondents were vaping in 2020 (or 2019, for those who did not complete the 2020 study) but are no longer vaping regularly in 2021. This group includes the Current Smokers who had quit vaping, but continue to smoke (9% of respondents).

* Note: Percentages are based on weighted proportions; actual sample sizes are not weighted.

The following bullet points summarize the key findings for specific behaviours, including: vaping behaviours; smoking habits among Dual Use, New and Relapsed Smokers; the use of vaping to quit smoking; and, efforts toward vaping cessation. Overall, there are relatively few changes in these measures since 2020.

Vaping Behaviours

Smoking Among Dual Users, New and Relapsed Smokers

Vaping for Smoking Cessation

Successful Vaping Cessation

For those who have quit vaping, an end to cravings or no longer thinking about vaping is the most common sign of success (38%).

Qualitative findings

Transitions: The goal of the qualitative research was to explore more deeply four possible transitions in vaping and smoking use that participants had experienced in the past year.

The two main transitions with which participants had experience were efforts to quit smoking (n=23) and efforts to stop vaping (n=19).

A small number had started or resumed smoking (n=7). These individuals described various circumstances or triggers that led to this, including temptation from peers in social settings, having easy access to family members’ cigarettes, and stress or anxiety.

For those who had resumed vaping (n=3), two did so to reduce their cigarette consumption and one did so on the recommendation of a medical professional to treat an unspecified medical condition.

Comparisons of Smoking and Vaping: Participants who were current or past smokers were also asked to compare their vaping and smoking experiences.

Among those who currently smoke or have smoked in the past, smoking was a source of conflicting feelings. On the one hand, cigarettes provided substantial stress-relief and comfort, with some describing a more intense and longer physical reaction to the nicotine by comparison to vaping. At the same time, they often felt guilt due to a keen awareness of the negative health consequences as well as personal experiences with side effects such as coughing, shortness of breath and feeling distressed.

Vaping was generally described as an adequate, but imperfect, substitute for smoking. While vaping could provide feelings of relaxation and satisfy a nicotine craving, it was perceived to be less physically and emotionally satisfying than cigarettes. It was clearly perceived to be a healthier alternative to smoking, and also more socially acceptable, meaning it was often preferred during the daytime, indoors and in any other settings where smoking would not be appropriate. For these reasons, vaping could be described as the ‘rational choice’ by comparison to the more ‘emotional’ choice or guilty pleasure of smoking.

Despite this generally positive positioning of vaping as the healthier and more guilt-free option, there were nonetheless concerns about the long-term effects of vaping, due to the nicotine content, and the fear that one bad habit (smoking) had been replaced by another (vaping).

Vaping flavours. There was no consensus on the role played by vaping flavours. Nearly all participants have used flavoured vape liquids, with fruit flavours being the most popular, followed by mint and vanilla. For some, it was the flavours that made them more willing to accept the trade-off in emotional and physical fulfillment compared to smoking. There was recognition that while flavours made vaping enjoyable as an aid when quitting smoking, they equally could make it difficult to quit vaping later. However, few believed that availability or unavailability of certain flavours would influence their own personal decisions whether or not to vape. The exception was those who exclusively used tobacco flavoured vape liquids, who were more likely to foresee resuming smoking if that flavour became unavailable.

Impact of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic had varying impacts on participants’ vaping and smoking habits. For some, it made it easier to quit or reduce smoking or vaping, often because the routines associated with smoking or vaping had changed or participants no longer found themselves in the social situations that encouraged cigarette or vape use. For others, it had the opposite effect of increasing their smoking or vaping habits, either because of stress related to the pandemic, or because they had greater opportunities to smoke or vape at home.

Political neutrality statement and contact information

I hereby certify as senior officer of Environics that the deliverables fully comply with the Government of Canada political neutrality requirements outlined in the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, and Procedures for Planning and Contracting Public Opinion Research. Specifically, the deliverables do not include information on electoral voting intentions, political party preferences, standings with the electorate, or ratings of the performance of a political party or its leaders.

Sarah Robertson
Vice President, Corporate and Public Affairs

Supplier name: Environics Research Group
PWGSC contract number: HT372-204361/001/CY
Original contract date: 2021-02-03
For more information on this report, please contact Health Canada at: